- Published: Thursday, 05 October 2017 18:21
“Whenever I catch a fish, I believe that we are meant to cross paths in our lifetime.”
Those are the deeply philosophical words of Jung-Hoon Park, who uses a traditional Korean fishing pole called a gyeonji to catch freshwater fish in South Korea.
These historic poles are believed to be somewhere between 300 and 500 years old and the method is regarded as the traditional fishing method of Korea.
Essentially a gyeonji is a short stick with a wide paddle-like attachment at the end around which the line is wrapped, making it the most basic rod and reel combo you can imagine.
Line is let out and retrieved by rolling the stick in your hand, a completely manual process, and the species he was catching in the video I watched looked like a cross between whiting, carp and trout – a stunning freshwater fish.
Now I am not one to rail against progress – to do is ultimately futile in an ever-changing world – but I was entranced by the simplicity of it all while watching Park.
Park’s words struck a real chord with me, as I like to take a few seconds after a momentous capture to consider just how fate has conspired to bring the fish and I together.
Luck plays a big part in fishing and every great catch really is its own little miracle given the uncertainty of the whole thing.
In some ways gyeonji fishing also took me back to my days on the jetty in Albany, when all I needed was a moulded hand-reel, a hook and some cockles to pit my skills against the fish.
As Park showed, fishing doesn’t actually have to be complicated, even though we tend to make it so for a variety of reasons.
Ironically, on the very same day I was watching the gyeonji video, my Facebook feed was full of the latest gadgets from the ICast tackle show in the United States – the new gear which would dominate the Australian tackle market over the following 12 months.
Anyone who loves new fishing gear couldn’t help but be amazed by the latest innovations such as the amazing Zombait, a battery-powered baitfish imitation so realistic I’d be tempted to put a set of gangs in it!
You couldn’t get a greater contrast in the technology between the gyeonji and the Zombait, but both serve the same basic purpose – to help catch an animal with a brain the size of pea, as we have done for hundreds of years.
I love my new gadgets as much as anyone, but in fishing is newer necessarily better?
I dare say there will be hell of a lot more Zombaits than gyeonjis sold in 2018, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the superior fishing tool. After all, the Zombait will probably have a shelf life of relevance and popularity of only a couple of years, while the Korean fishing stick is still in use after centuries.
And the truth is there is no right and wrong to how people fish – it all comes down to the individual experience and what we take from it, which in Park’s case puts him firmly on the side of one of the most primitive fishing styles on the planet, and happily so in his eyes.
If catching as many fish as possible was the only goal we’d have no fly fishers (finally a world former WAngler managing editor Ian Stagles would want to live in), very few kayak fishers (heaven forbid), and the giant trevally of the world would be able to rest in peace each and every day.
What a boring old fishing world that would be!
These days it is easy to get absorbed in the trends of fishing and think newest must always be best, but Park’s approach was a reminder it doesn’t have to be so.
There have certainly been never been more ingenious tools to help us catch, especially if you are fishing from modern boats, with technological advances like GPS, fish finder systems and electric motors, to name but a few, not to mention the many online tools and apps which mean there is a wealth of real-time information at your fingertips at any point in time.
There is no doubt great skill and knowledge involved in working all these tools to your advantage, and a great deal of satisfaction when it all comes together and results in a memorable capture, but at the same time is it any wonder some people say the fish don’t stand a chance?
Personally, as much as it’s great to be able to put the odds in your favour I still really enjoy getting back to basics and catching fish on a more level playing field.
I prefer to keep things simple wherever I can even though that puts me at odds with the vast majority of anglers and probably most readers of this magazine.
Sure there are tools out there which could probably help increase my catch, if that were my only goal, but it invariably isn’t.
It’s probably why I usually kayak and shore fish even though I do enjoy boat fishing as well – it’s simpler and I like that.
Sure I have a fish finder on my kayak, a flash side imaging unit, but I rarely use it to anything like its potential and sometimes I don’t even switch it on.
If I wanted to, I could get this unit to show me the bottom in great detail and even tell me if there are fish on the snag I am casting at.
But do I actually want to know that? And do I need to know it? For me, the answer is usually no and I mainly just use the sounder to tell me the depth.
Working the sounder might save me some unrewarded casts and help me become more efficient, but bizarrely part of the appeal of fishing to me is not knowing exactly what is happening in the underwater world around me.
I like to mentally apply what I have learnt over 40 years of fishing and part of the joy is in seeing if the assumptions I make are actually right – some people might call it thinking like a fish.
I guess it is one of the ways I connect with the natural world around me and I find it personally provides a greater sense of appreciation for each capture.
Rather than needing every last bit of information, I enjoy the sense of anticipation of not having absolute certainty and the obvious level of surprise that comes with it when the strike does come.
To some it might be akin to blasphemy and maybe downright silly, but personally that’s where the joy in fishing is to me – the simple act of trying to outwit my prey based on basic decisions such as location, tackle selection and choice of bait or lure.
The same decisions I was making 40 years ago, and anglers across the globe have being making for hundreds of years based largely on gut instinct.
As I watched the Park video, it wasn’t just his simple approach to fishing which resonated with me, I also loved his thoughts on why he always practices catch and release.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a feed of fish and I still enjoy doing so, but most of the time I prefer to let my catch go.
Every angler will have their own reasons for keeping or releasing their fish, but I thought Park beautifully summed up the appreciation and joy the simple act of watching your catch swim away can provide for those that way inclined.
“It is a display of appreciation and respect for the fish,” he said.
“This fish gave me the time of my life through our interaction … and there is no reason for me to kill this fish and take the joy away.”
Caption: Casting at working birds is a good example of how simple observation of what’s going on around you can make all the difference in fishing. Piecing the clues together is enormously satisfying when it comes off and while there are plenty of modern tools to help anglers, they aren’t always essential to success. Wayne Burleigh with an Exmouth Gulf longtail.